K.Lal hailed as one of the world’s fastest and the greatest, writes S. AISHWARYA
If only he hadn’t developed interest in science during early childhood and thoroughly enjoyed looking at the awestruck faces of his schoolmates drawn into his web of illusion, Kantilal Vora wouldn’t have spent seven decades captivating people with his sleight of hand.
When his repertoire of magic grew large and wide, K. Lal — as he is popularly known — decided to set new standards for magic shows that remain unconquered by his contemporaries till date.
“No one wants to be ordinary. I took up the challenge life threw at me. The best thing in life is to keep proving our critics wrong. And I’ve been doing it for decades,” says the 85-year-old conjuror, with a proud grin.
The Gujarat-born magician kicked off his magical journey from Kolkata, the “land of magicians”. At a magic show of Ganapati Chakraborty, a world renowned magician of yesteryears, Lal grasped the science behind his tricks, while others believed them to be supernatural. Greatly impressed, Ganapati prophesied the kid’s world fame as a magician.
His learning took off in earnest when Ganapati located him at his school and offered him to teach magic. “For over three years, I learnt tricks in secret from him during school hours. I was never interested in studies. The only reason I visited school was to flaunt my skills before my classmates.”
Soon, Lal matured as a magician through his formal training. The charismatic practitioner of the craft earned a chance to perform at a wedding ceremony in his village. Among all his tricks, the one that drew most gasps was the ‘water of India’ act. He would simply pour the water from the jug placed before the audience now and then. The jug would get itself refilled despite emptying it every time.
Sipping a glass of fresh juice, Lal remembers how the villagers began to celebrate the new-found talent in their village. Clearly, he was a unique treasure to them.
While many greeted him with hugs, few doubted whether the water was jinxed. “They called it ‘black magic.’ My parents were scared too. I said, come on, it’s nuts. It’s insane to call the talent of using science to entertain people as eerie. But they didn’t seem to hear.”
The experience convinced Lal that magic was not as attractive as it is on stage. Not only did he resist the opposition in his village, he took a more radical step. Dropping out of school, he thought, would send clear signals to his parents that he was charmed by the craft.
But Lal was reminded there was more to life than spellbinding people with tricks. His dad wanted to teach him the economics of life and persuaded him to join a shop as assistant. Lal was not allowed to practice magic after that till 1950.
But his mental wizardry and charismatic stage presence spawned a whole new set of imitators. Imposing stage set-up and grand attires are integral to his shows. “Strobe lights and long robes slung with multi-coloured ropes of beads gave a dramatic effect to my show. Magic is not dark and gloomy. It’s as colourful as a movie.”
Of all the countries where he has carried out his craft, Japan remains close to his heart. If the popularity during his six-month stay in the country is one reason, the other was the visit of the entire Parliament to his show. “It was immensely humbling experience. The country’s representatives including the Premier sat through my show. I rose to star status overnight.”
Not long before, many moments in his magic show turned wild, quite literally. His son Junior K. Lal conjured up elephants, pythons, tiger and giant lizards in split seconds. While the audience cheered the animals that were summoned, the real dramas were held behind the screen. “The animals loved me. At the end of every show, the chimpanzee would leap straight over me, other animals would thud my chest with an apparent grin on their face. It’d seem like ‘we are ready for the next adventure.’ But animal advocates were not very supportive. We didn’t want to lock horns with them. So our pets were sent away.”
Lal always saved his best tricks till the end. Like slicing his son into two halves by a giant saw or tearing down a 45-feet dragon into pieces with his paranormal sword.
Does he plan to start a school for magic, in line of his contemporary P. C. Sorcar? He shakes his head in kind of a thoughtful denial: “This has been hitting my mind for quite long. When Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister, she wanted to begin a government-run school for magic. I was the first choice. Somehow, it did not interest me. I’m not cut out for teaching tricks.”
For his mastery in illusion, the International bureau of magicians hailed him as the “world’s fastest and greatest magician.”
“Magic carried me through the dry spell,” he said, as he rolled a lighter to demonstrate a trick. The lighter with a slim, long flame rose up in the air, burning a piece of paper into ashes. The fire, amazingly though, behaved harmless when sent through a piece of cloth, albeit spewing out fierce flames all over it. “I would like to carry it with reverence till rest of my life.”